10 September, 2020 by Jordan Kelly-Linden. From The Telegraph.
A new report has exposed the sinister ways in which leading unhealthy food and drink brands have exploited the coronavirus crisis to further corporate interests at the expense of public health.
In fact, since the start of the pandemic hundreds of examples have emerged of ultra-processed food and drink companies trying to curry favor with consumers under the appearance of philanthropic donations.
The paper, which was published by the NCD Alliance and Spectrum on Thursday, reveals how companies across the world employed various marketing stunts to champion unhealthy products as part of the solution to the ongoing public health emergency, despite their known role in exacerbating poor health outcomes.
Lucy Westerman, Policy and Campaigns Manager with the NCD Alliance and a co-author of the report says: “Since the early days of the pandemic, we have observed two trends: the growing epidemiological evidence that people living with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are suffering worse outcomes from Covid-19, and that many producers of unhealthy commodities have rapidly adapted their strategies in an attempt to capitalize on the pandemic and lockdowns. It is a bitter irony that companies such as tobacco, alcohol and junk food, whose products increase the risk of NCDs, thereby putting people at higher risk of suffering through the pandemic, have positioned themselves as heroes and partners in the response and have interfered in public policies that seek to protect population health.
Among what’s discussed in the research, one example refers to the fast food company Burger King because it evokes patriotism in the US gamifying government stay at home orders by awarding give-away products to those who caught a QR-code moving around TV screens.
Also, Nestle, FEMSA and YSA Pharmacies breached the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes by offering a “gift” additional formula to vulnerable families for every can of infant or toddler milk purchased.
Closer to home, international donut company Krispy Kreme leveraged Covid-19 in a marketing campaign purportedly ‘serving smiles’, which offered 1,500 free donuts to healthcare and other frontline workers at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
Alongside companies promoting unhealthy eating and drinking habits, the report also highlighted corporations who sought to use large philanthropic donations as a means to secure legitimacy and political capital.
As an example, the largest bottler of Coca-Cola in the United States has partnered with the US Department of Health and Human Services to manufacture plastic tubes for use in Covid-19 testing kits.
The Coca-Cola Company described this initiative as “utilizing existing soda bottle preforms to produce more than 7 million tubes each week”, which featured as a prominent item on the Coca-Cola website as one of the “new solutions” developed to support local communities.
Meanwhile in Kenya, the Government chose to include tobacco, alcohol and processed food and beverages on their official list of essential items and services, describing such products as “essential to the sustenance of lives and efforts” and granting manufacturers special protection to continue the production and movement of these products during lockdown.
The special status of tobacco and alcohol was opposed by local civil society groups, who warned of the growing risk posed by non-communicable diseases and urged the government “not to replace one pandemic with another.”
One such example includes the creation of the WHO’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund in April.
While its due diligence processes prohibit funding from alcohol, arms, and tobacco industries, this has provided opportunities for ultra-processed food and drink manufacturers to signal active engagement in the global response.
Both Pepsico, the Mondelez International Foundation, the charitable arm of the sweets company which owns Cadbury, and the Starbucks Foundation are all listed among the Fund’s supporters.